Dr. Yusun Jung is an assistant professor of management information systems at Texas A&M University-Texarkana.
I recently saw a funny MEME of people who literally do “money laundry” to clean out COVID virus from their bills, only to end up with bunches of unusably damaged bills. They should have used bank cards or, more preferably, contactless payments like ApplePay!
Our society is transitioning to a cashless society where money exists as digital information, and a financial transaction is nothing but an exchange of digital information. Being cashless is not a new trend. People have already used bank cards and credit cards as their primary payment methods. E-commerce that takes up about 11% of the total retail sales of the first quarter of 2020 cannot be done using cash. Due to the digital transformation of money, financial payment services become diverse and decentralized. Furthermore, new currencies such as cryptocurrencies are introduced since the introduction of Bitcoin in 2009. The advent of the untact (contact-free) society due to the current COVID pandemic only accelerates the digital transition.
Financial institutions have adopted digital technologies to improve and automate this new way of financial transactions and services. Those digital technologies are generally referred to as financial technologies or fintech. Because of the intensive technology use in the financial sector, fintech is an equivalent term for financial services. According to Earnest Young’s Fintech adoption Index in 2019, 46% of U.S. consumers use at least two or more fintech services. Globally, 64% of consumers have adopted fintech. People want faster and cleaner financial transactions and are hesitant to carry cash. Banks lower cash holding ratio because cash is not rewarding enough as it used to be due to almost zero interest rates. Business can manage their financial operations by using fintech and lower transaction costs.
However, the recent massive growth in the number and size of online platforms of financial services makes this industry very vulnerable to cyberattacks and data breaches. Fake bank websites and e-commerce sites are common ways of phishing attempts. Web skimmers hijack login credentials and payment data. Massive data breaches on financial service institutions like Equifax and Capital One are not surprising news anymore, though the extent of sensitivity and the value of breached data is critical. Financial institutions are attractive targets for ransomware attacks because their operations are time-sensitive, and they are capable of paying a hefty ransom.
Another issue is that the current fintech services are not inclusive enough, as current fintech services are tied to conventional financial institutions. For example, ApplePay asks you to input your credit card information, and Venmo requires your bank account information. If you don’t have any accounts with formal financial service institutions, you will be left behind. Indeed, approximately 25% of U.S. households in 2017 do not have any bank accounts of formal financial institutions or use financial services outside the banking system, according to the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation). Also, seniors who are not good at using new technologies cannot benefit from fintech services because those services are available through digital technology. Even worse is that they are an easy target of cyberfraud.
Fintech businesses and governments worldwide work together to create a cyber-risk free ecosystem and provide more inclusive services. Fintech companies are aware that security is their utmost competitive advantage to excel in the highly competitive fintech industry. They are implementing proactive risk management of cyberattacks and data breaches. Advanced artificial intelligence and machine learning have enhanced companies’ capacities for detecting and managing those risks. Also, fintech businesses acknowledge that they are allies in protecting their ecosystems against cyber threats and increase their collaboration. Governments set regulations and protocols to reduce the risk and protect consumers. They also support building telecommunication infrastructure to be prepared for the upcoming 5G era.
Fintech businesses are making significant efforts to make fintech services more inclusive. They derive new ways of assessing credit scores beyond conventional measures such as income, properties, and payment history. Using big data collected about consumers’ purchase history, location data, social media data, etc. they can analyze consumers’ behavior patterns and identify trustworthy customers who would be categorized as unqualified for formal financial services by conventional measures. Fintech businesses start to provide specialized services for seniors, such as Mint, Silver bills, and so forth, to address their financial needs ranging from paying bills to wealth management.
There are lots of hope and hype around the digital transformation, and the transformation is unavoidable and coming faster than we thought. Now, what should we prepare for the new fintech revolution? First, know what fintech does and doesn’t. Don’t be panic. A cashless society does not mean that cash completely vanishes. Instead, large parts of our financial services and transactions are done virtually. Second, do your regular cybersecurity rituals, change passwords, monitor any suspicious changes in your accounts, use secure networks only, and so on. Please note that fintech services are another online service whose data you want to protect and secure. Third, remember that you are an active subject of this transformation. Without your belief and participation, the transformation cannot be successful.